Release the Hounds: Conference races heating up in NBA

The NBA Eastern and Western Conference races have really heated up.

Only two games separate top East seeded Chicago from Boston and 2.5 games from Miami after its loss to Cleveland on Tuesday.

Boston and Chicago have nine games remaining on the schedule, including a game against each other on April 7 and the Celtics play Miami on the road three days later.

Right now, you’d be fooling yourself if you said for sure you knew which of the three teams will win the top seed at regular season’s end. Chicago now has the bull’s-eye (no pun intended) on them at the top (as seen on Monday against Philadelphia), Boston’s still the defending Eastern Conference champs so every team facing them will play the Celtics like it’s Game 7 of a playoff series and though the media frenzy has faded a bit with Miami, the Heat are still a top-tier team that every team wants to beat.

Not to mention, the Heat have two playoff contenders (Milwaukee and Charlotte) and Boston and Atlanta left on their schedule.

The top seed is still anybody’s to clinch or let slip away — Boston’s already proven that to be true this month.

I doubt you’ll need any more convincing of this fact, but take a look at the suddenly close Western Conference race.

San Antonio’s fallen on some hard times with injuries to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs are just 3.5 games ahead of the surging Los Angeles Lakers (15-1 since the All-Star Break) and just 4.5 games ahead of a Dallas team that still wants to at least clinch a two-seed.

The Celtics and Spurs and Lakers and Mavericks both play on Thursday with potentially significant playoff seeding implications on the line (smart move by TNT to get both of those games).

I can’t remember a season where the regular season has meant so much this late into the year.

Nothing is certain as far as seeding goes, which could go a long way with how the postseason plays out.

Why seeding matters

It’s likely we’ll see either Boston, Chicago or Miami play either LA, San Antonio or Dallas in the NBA Finals unless the Oklahoma City Thunder surprise everyone.

Homecourt advantage may not always be an indicator of which team will make it to the Finals, but for the last 12 years, it’s proven to show whichever team has that advantage in the Finals will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.

A total of 10 of the 12 Finals series have been won by the team who started with homecourt advantage. Only the Detroit Pistons and the Miami Heat have won starting Game 1 of the series on the road.

The Lakers haven’t won a playoff series starting on the road since 2004 – they beat both San Antonio and the Minnesota Timberwolves that year.

The Celtics had the best record in the league in 2008 and who knows if Boston would have beat both Atlanta and Cleveland that year without the benefit of playing Game 7 at the Garden.

As I see it, few teams this year have the ability to win a series starting on the road in this year’s playoffs along, let alone the Finals.

These last games of the regular season could not only determine which teams gets the better seed, but which team has the best chance of winning an NBA title.

30.03.2011. u 10:02 | 0 Komentara | Print | # | ^

Until NFL, players start talking, nobody's playing football

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- Most people want to know when we'll have pro football again. Me? I want to know when the NFL and its players talk again because until they do there can be no football.

So let's see what we have here. The league insists it will resume negotiations if players are willing to return to the table. In fact, in a letter commissioner Roger Goodell sent players Thursday he declared "we have said publicly, told the federal mediator, and say to you that we are prepared to resume those negotiations at any time."

Great. So when is that time? Someone? Anyone?

"Anytime they want to reach out," said the Cowboys' Bradie James.

But I thought Goodell just did that. Players don't, and until or unless they do there can be no conversations.

What we have here, folks, is a failure to communicate ... again ... and the problem this time is that Goodell's letter angered and insulted players assembled here for their annual meeting -- with Pittsburgh player representative Ryan Clark charging it was meant "to create confusion and to create dissension."

I don't know about that. But I do know that players aren't going to budge until someone other than Goodell reaches out to them. And that someone would be Jeff Pash, the NFL's lead negotiator. Only they don't want to hear from him. They want their attorneys to hear from him, and if you're wondering why we're in an NFL shutdown you’re getting warm.

The two sides can't even agree on how to correspond with each other, with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith on Friday saying Goodell's letter did not represent a "good-faith" gesture to resume talks.

And you were expecting progress? Please.

This, people, is why the NFL and its players aren't expected to resume talking until called into a U.S. federal court on April 6. That doesn't mean they can't return to negotiations. It just means that based on what you hear from the two sides these days there's a better chance of finding the Pittsburgh Pirates in this year's World Series.

"The question," said Smith, "is: Is it possible for class counsel on behalf of the Players Association to negotiate with the National Football League with respect to the outstanding case that is pending in Minnesota? Absolutely. The league understands and knows that class counsel and the class of the players can have discussions with representatives or lawyers from the National Football League."

Translation: Smith wants to hear from Pash. The players don't want to hear from Goodell.

In fact, players stood in front of reporters Friday to express disappointment and outrage with his letter, partly because they disagreed with its "key elements" and mostly because they believe -- or, at least, said they believe -- Goodell's intentions aren't sincere. If they were, they sested, he wouldn't have appealed to them; Pash would've appealed to their attorneys, and by now you should be getting a picture of a Great Divide.

Players even dissected Goodell's letter to the last paragraph where he referred to "your Union" when, they insisted, he and NFL attorneys know there is no union. They're right, of course. So why would he make a mistake like that? Their contention is he wouldn't; that it wasn't a mistake and that it's all part of a plan to deceive and divide, and now you know why we need to hear from the courts.

"Roger was in the [negotiating] meetings for the last 16 days," said James, "and he clearly knows we're a players association and not a union. That fact alone culminates everything that's going on ... That may seem very small to other people, but to us that's the fight we're in."

Right again. It does seem small. But not to NFL players who feel they're getting the short end of the stick when talks get around to a new CBA. They contend that owners drove them to decertify because, basically, players tired of waiting on them to deliver a meaningful proposal.

Only the league counters its proposal was meaningful and that it wasn't the owners who left the negotiating table; it was the players. Furthermore, it says it wasn't the owners who refused to negotiate; it was the players.

I give up. Somewhere in there is the truth, and leave it to the courts to decide.

19.03.2011. u 07:21 | 0 Komentara | Print | # | ^

NFL bargaining negotiations resume

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- NFL team owners and players began talking again Monday in hopes of hammering out a collective bargaining agreement under an extended deadline.

The two sides agreed to push back last Thursday's deadline to replace the expiring contract until this coming Friday. Negotiators from each side plan to meet every day this week in the Washington office of federal mediator George H. Cohen, the NFL Network reported.

The New York Giants' John Mara was the only owner present, while National Football League Players Association leaders Charlie Batch, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Domonique Foxworth and Tony Richardson also participated.

Reports indicated major differences still remain on how to divide the league's $9.3 billion of total revenues with the potential for a training camp lockout still looming large.

Citing sources, the NFL Network reported players pulled back from a plan to legally decertify the union when the old deadline struck, relenting at the last minute and allowing negotiations to continue for another week.

Decertification would have allowed the NFLPA to sue the league under antitrust laws to prevent a lockout.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

08.03.2011. u 02:05 | 0 Komentara | Print | # | ^

Year After a Scandal, Woods Will Test His Progress at the Site of a Triumph

MARANA, Ariz. — The first clue was the view. Pounding golf balls off the pristine turf on the range at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain Tuesday was one great ball striker after another: Robert Allenby of Australia, Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland, the Colombian Camilo Villegas, the teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and, way on the far end, in a form-fitting golf shirt and wraparound shades, Tiger Woods.

Leader Board
Stats | Earnings

Leader Board
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Leader Board
Stats | Earnings

Leader Board
Stats | Earnings
It is not merely the presence of Woods at this World Golf Championship event, returning to the desert after a two-year absence, that makes this week special. Every one of the top 50 golfers in the world, and 62 of the top 64, are here in the Oro Valley in the shadow of Dove Mountain for the W.G.C.-Accenture Match Play Championship.

For Woods, being here is the latest signpost on a journey back. One year ago this week, he was appearing on live television to admit to multiple extramarital affairs, taking the blame for the fallout that led to the loss of his marriage and a number of his key sponsors, including Accenture.

On Tuesday, he was hitting balls into a light wind, painting 3-wood shots high and low against the cloudless desert sky and hoping, he said, to return to contention soon, starting with his opening match against Thomas Bjorn of Denmark.

“Got to take it one match at a time,” said Woods, whose 32-7 individual match record is the best in this event. “One opponent at a time. I’ve got Thomas tomorrow. Looking forward to it. He won a tournament, what, three weeks ago? He is obviously playing better.”

So is Woods. At his last outing in Dubai two weeks ago, he outperformed both golfers above him in the World Golf Rankings — No. 1 Lee Westwood and No. 2 Martin Kaymer — but failed to turn a one-stroke deficit going into Sunday into his first victory since November 2009.

Form, whether current or past, is not always the best predictor of how a player will perform in match play. The vagaries of constant pressure and sudden death are what set this event apart. On Wednesday, 32 of the 64 golfers in the field will be gone after the first day in the only match play event of this magnitude on the schedule in the United States this year.

The likelihood that at least some of the higher seeds will meet their match early in the event is the double-edged sword to match play. On a Friday in 1999, on the eve of the quarterfinals, all but one of the top seeds was eliminated.

When the possibility was raised to Ian Poulter, the defending Accenture champion, that his 7:42 a.m. first-off-the-tee time against Stewart Cink could result in his being the shortest-lived defending champion of the year, he had a typically droll reply.

“Could be, could be on an airplane by midafternoon, I guess,” he said. “I hadn’t really thought about that until you just mentioned it, but thanks, well done. I’d rather be having a nice salmon for a starter and filet steak for dinner tomorrow night.”

Poulter’s preference, of course, would be for the meal to be served in his suite at the Ritz rather than on a flight back to his Florida home.

But his chances of working through the draw the way he did last year, which culminated with a 4-and-2 victory over Paul Casey in an all-England final, are not good. To do so he will first have to get past Cink, the 2008 finalist whose form is on an uptick. Phil Mickelson, who meets Brendan Jones in the first round, also is on Poulter’s side of the draw. So is Westwood, who faces Henrik Stenson.

“There are no easy games,” Westwood said when asked about Stenson, an alternate who got in the field when Japan’s Toru Taniguchi, the No. 64 player in the rankings, withdrew with a shoulder injury. “Everybody expects the top 64 is capable of shooting 65, 64. You get lucky in this format, but you also know you have to play well.”

Westwood has not yet run into any luck in this event. In 10 prior appearances, he has yet to advance past the second round.

“Yeah, I’m wondering what Friday looks like in this tournament,” he said.

After two years away, Woods will be trying to remember what it was like to get to the finals and drub Cink, 8-and-7, in 2008, which seems like a long time ago.

“Game is progressing, no doubt,” Woods said. “Had to work on a few things that we found were not right at Dubai, which was good. It feels like we’re heading in the right direction. Just have to work on it and solidify it.”

23.02.2011. u 04:41 | 0 Komentara | Print | # | ^

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